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IFIC Survey States Most Americans Have Tried Plant-Based Meat Alternatives 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) released the results of a survey about plant-based meat alternatives. IFIC conducted 1,000 interviews among adults above the age of 18 years old who have a role in food decisions or food shopping in their household, in August 2021. The purpose of the survey was to see how often plant alternatives are consumed and why. It should be noted that the study was funded by SNI Global (formally the Soy Nutrition Institute) and the United Soybean Board. 

Over 65% reported consuming a product intended to mimic animal meat within the last year. When asked why they might consume plant products, health was most important, with 39% ranking it among their top-three reasons, followed by being a source of protein (34%), enjoying the taste (33%), environmental and sustainability benefits (23%), and health claims and certifications (23%). 

Almost half of those interviewed cited the Nutrition Facts label (52%) and the ingredients list (49%) as one of their top two ways to confirm their reasons for consuming these foods. When asked where they would access information regarding plant alternatives, health websites were the most popular (36%), followed by food packages (29%), food company websites (21%), government websites (20%), and dietitians (19%).

As the fight between naming and term usage for plant-based protein products wages on, the survey asked interviewees their preferred terminology when discussing plant alternatives. Interestingly, the terms that included “burger” or “meat” ranked much higher among consumers than “soy patty”. Similarly, when shown what appeared to be a plant-based alternative to a chicken strip, consumers were more comfortable with terms that included the word “chicken” and were unable to come up with an alternative. 

As plant alternatives rise in popularity, Impossible Foods, a leader in plant-based fake meat products, CEO Patrick Brown recently released his plan to eliminate all animal agriculture. “I’m confident that by 2035 there will be no global animal-agriculture industry, and it won’t be because anyone banned them. It will be because there are products that do a better job of delivering what consumers want that are made directly from plants, and the economic incentive for raising animals for food is gone.”

This plan is problematic for several reasons. Vaughn Holder, Ruminant Research Director at Alltech, highlights that “If you eliminate animal agriculture, you take about 40% of the protein out of the global protein market. Today, there are 105 countries around the world that are protein insecure. Before we decide to take beef off the table, we must first figure out how we are going to replace that protein.”

Brown does not address human nutrition or the need for protein in his stance but says farmers and ranchers will benefit from the removal of animal agriculture because “Ranchers can make more money sequestering carbon by reforesting their land than they make from grazing animals.” He even goes on to say, “Farmers and ranchers are better off, consumers are better off, and the planet is better off.”

While this statement might be outlandish to those familiar with animal agriculture, the IFIC study indicates that the average American does not have a full grasp of the concerns associated with plant-based meat alternatives and find the products intriguing. “In the face of a growing global population, we need ruminant animals, like beef cattle, to help make more protein with less,” Matthew Hanslik, a Texas producer says. “As beef producers, we need to keep telling our story and sharing the good news about beef.”